‘Tis the season for gift giving. Smartphones and mobile devices are a hot item during the holidays. The first thing many people do when they get a new phone or device is to start downloading apps. Since there will be a lot of downloading over the next week, here are some tips to help you detect fake apps before you download them.

Some people aren’t aware that fake apps exist. They do, and if they are downloaded, they can be used by cyber criminals to take control of the device and ultimately steal your money and your personal information. A recent example is a fake version of WhatsApp was downloaded over 1 million times before it was discovered that it was fake. It was listed as Update WhatsApp Messenger. It was removed after it was reported by Reddit.

Fake apps can be very hard to detect. Here are some tips for basic app hygiene:

  • Only download apps that you will actually use and that you have confirmed are legitimate. It is not a badge of coolness to download every app made
  • Read the terms of use (yes, really read how the app is using your data, what it is capturing, and if it has access to your camera, microphone or location)
  • Carefully review the title of the app and the description of the app. If the title, or words in the description are misspelled or the grammar is off, it could be a fake app
  • Look at the app’s download count. If the count is relatively low, it could be fake
  • Review the permissions the app is requesting. If an app is asking for permission to access the camera, your contacts, the microphone and SMS messaging, and those permissions make no sense, it may be fake and trying to get as much access to your device as possible
  • Never allow an app to obtain administrator privileges over your device
  • Delete apps you no longer use

 If you download a fake app, delete it as soon as you can. If it does not allow you to delete it, then wipe your phone and start over.

Finally, review the apps that you have given permission to access certain portions of your device by going into Settings, then Privacy and check each listing to see which apps have access to your contacts, calendar, photos, Bluetooth, microphone, speech recognition, camera, health, HomeKit, media and motion & fitness. Yikes, when you think about it, that’s a lot of information being given to app developers. And don’t get me started on biometrics and facial recognition…

This holiday season, make educated choices about which apps you download and how much information you are allowing those apps to have access to on your phone.

Happy holidays!